(Not So) Great Expectations

I have found myself recently struggling to understand what other people, not to mention society in general, expect of me.

When I first arrived in Japan on the JET program 11 years ago, nobody seemed to expect me to be able to do even the simplest things. I was shown how to use the hot water, how to unfold a futon. (But not how to use the toilet which was what I really needed to know. Seemed like everywhere I went, the toilets were either glorified stinky holes in the floor or straight out of a NASA r&d proposal.)

The people I worked with at school seemed pleasantly surprised that I showed up on time; amazed that I could make my own lunch to bring to work; awed when I would utter simple greetings in Japanese. It was kind of annoying.

But if I did something socially wrong, it was just overlooked or gently (for the most part) corrected. I think I went around saying kancho(enema) instead of kincho (nervous) for about three weeks before a kindergartner eventually corrected me.

In retrospect, ah, those were the good old days.

Things started to change when I was pregnant with my first child. Suddenly I wasn’t getting any leeway. I had studied up on the vocabulary that I needed to know when visiting the obgyn, but I wasn’t prepared for the differences in thinking. I was told in no uncertain terms I was to gain no more than 8 kilos (18 lbs.) Gaining more than that leads to fat being deposited around the vagina and difficult labor. That’s what the doctor actually said, no kidding. It’s like they were setting women up to believe that it was their own fault if childbirth didn’t go smoothly. No reaching my hands over my head, no running, no bike riding. (Of course when I was pregnant the second time I did all of these things.) Morning sickness? Tough it out. Caught a cold? Suck it up, pregnant women can’t take medicine.

When things started to go wrong early in the pregnancy, I was put on bed rest. I felt like I was bring set up again. If we lost the baby, then it would be my fault for moving around too much. I was “encouraged” to quit my job. Stress was bad for the baby. Nobody seemed to give a cr@p about ME.

And that is still pretty much the case. Mothers in Japan are expected to sacrifice themselves for the family, work themselves to the bone. But I do feel that work gets respected here. I had a sharp reminder of how condescending American society can be towards women the other day. We were trying to arrange a date for a Christmas party for the English class my children attend, and since many of the children there would also be invited to the foreign wives’s club party, someone mentioned making sure the dates didn’t overlap. One of the dads referred to it as “oh, yeah the wives’ thing, and he said it with his nose all wrinkled up, like he was smelling some of that stinky cheese we have sitting on our table. One of The Wives in question caught my eye, and rolled hers as if to say and they wonder why we chose Japanese men?

Honestly, here there just isn’t a stereotype of stay-at-home moms sitting around all day watching their stories and eating chocolates. Maybe some women do; I don’t know any. There is a stereotype of older women watching Korean dramas on TV all day, ignoring their newly retired husbands. But that also includes a connotation of “They worked hard, they’ve earned their free time” and insinuates that the men need to get off their keisters and try their hand at some housework for a change.

But I have swayed FAR from my intended topic, sorry.

I find that I no longer get much leeway for being a foreigner, especially when it comes to school things. I’m expected to participate in and take my turn being a class representative for PTA, even though I do not feel confident that I would not screw it up. Public speaking is not my thing, especially not in Japanese, and these positions involve a lot of that.

I need more time to complete questionnaires, and sometimes help reading them, but the teachers don’t realize this. Of course I want to be treated like an adult, and I want my son to be treated like the other children, so I guess you could say I often let pride and fear get in my way when I should be asking for assistance. One example: we were asked to fill out a health questionnaire at the beginning of the school year, including a fill-in-the-blank immunization list. Of course I couldn’t finish it in the time allotted, and I really needed a dictionary to look up the kanji for the immunization names. The teacher seemed miffed when I asked to take it home, but I guess she didn’t want us spending the night there because in the end she agreed that I could bring it back the next day.

There are times when Me First and I can’t understand his homework. The exercises aren’t too difficult, but there are times when even though we can read each word in the instructions, the overall meaning escapes us.

I often have the same trouble with notes from school. I received a note saying, “We would appreciate it if children who have a lightweight backpack fold it up and bring it to school inside their school backpack.” To me, that did not mean “Go buy a lightweight, foldable backpack” so I sent my son without one. Of course he was the only child that showed up bag-less.

I’ve heard many people say that the older they get, the less they know. I feel the same way, but I guess it’s aggravated by living here. I’ve been here for a third of my life already, but there is still so much I don’t get. Maybe I’m not expected to, maybe I am.

I’ve got no idea(~_~;)

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. chrysanthemummum
    Nov 14, 2011 @ 18:48:54

    I’m dreading elementary school and all the letters I can’t read properly. I know what you mean when you say, that you understand all the words but not the overall meaning. The opposite can be true too, I can’t read all the words but I get the overall meaning! I know I would never be able to take a lead role in the PTA. Things would never get done as I just don’t “get” everything.

    I had a similar thing at hoikuen Sports Day where I was unprepared for a bit of mama participation. I had to dig deep for survival skills to avoid humiliation in front of the whole hoikuen population and watch carefully what was going on as I’d missed the instructions when I was in the loo with my daughter! Of course, hub is never around to help with these things. I certainly wouldn’t have rushed out and bought a special bag from the instructions that you were given in that letter.

    Reply

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